Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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The legislative session is underway and it didn’t take long for some controversy to kick up. On Tuesday, one day before the General Assembly convened, advocates and lawmakers gathered to announce support for an initiative to increase the state alcohol tax by a “dime-a-drink.” It’s certainly within their right to fight for increasing the tax on booze. After all, it’s been more than 50 years since the tax on distilled sprits was raised and more than 35 years since the excise on beer was increased. An argument could be made it’s time, but it would be important to realize the bars and restaurants and retail stores have been hit hard with other tax increases over the years, including sales tax, to name one.

Put aside the debate over whether the alcohol tax should be raised for a moment. What gets under my skin is the approach these groups are taking to push their message. It’s pure politics. In a press release issued far and wide this week, it was said this tax increase is needed “to save lives from alcohol abuse and to fund key public health needs; alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment; developmental disability services and mental health needs; and fully fund the Working Families and Small Business Health Care Coverage Act of 2007.” It went on to report the money raised through the tax increase would “raise enough money to fund lifesaving public health needs.”

Although I am skeptical of the motives, I will give the benefit of the doubt to these groups that they actually believe what they are peddling here. However, it’s worth pointing out if the legislature sees fit to boost the state’s take on the alcohol industry it will be for one reason – it needs the money. Sure, saving lives and increasing funds to direct toward health and education may be discussed in public, but this will be only about the revenue it will create and nothing more.

Among the numerous bills pre-filed prior to state legislators beginning their work on Wednesday was House Bill 40, which alters the formula of how the slot machine money would be disbursed. It essentially aims to reduce the horse industry’s take and allocate that amount to the state.

The disbursement of slots revenues is complicated, but the key in this discussion is to know there’s something called a purse dedication account, which would be run by the State Racing Commission. The account will hold the increased money that horse racers can win as a result of slots. This bill could slash that account’s take in half. This legislation stands little chance of passing and it’s a good thing. There’s a lot plaguing the transition to slots in Maryland and changing the rules in the middle of the proverbial game is bad business.

It would seem appropriate for the state to allow some coins to be dropped for at least a year before altering critical pieces of the legislation. That’s only fair to all with a stake in the process.

It’s only January but election season is well underway.

One of the high-profile contests will surely be the lower shore Senate seat currently occupied by Republican Lowell Stoltzfus, who plans to retire. Delegate Jim Mathias has made it clear he will vie for the seat, and hotelier Michael James also appears to be leaning toward a Senate run to keep that seat in the GOP’s control. Although Mathias, a Democrat, and James seem in, it’s worth pointing out other names from Wicomico and Somerset counties are also strongly considering runs. Sources indicate the possibility of two Ocean City folks squaring off in the general election is not sitting well in other portions of the district.

On a more localized front, it’s clear at least one County Commissioner incumbent will have to fight for her seat in the primary in September. Back in October of 2009, Madison J. Bunting, a Bishopville-based surveyor and member of the Worcester County Planning Commission, filed to run for the District 6 seat, currently occupied by Commissioner Linda Busick, who is in the final year of her first term and has already announced she will be running again this fall for re-election. Both Busick and Bunting are registered Republicans.

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